Stan Lee, likely the best-known and most beloved comics writer of all time, has died at the age of 95.
“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger in a statement. “A super hero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.”
Lee was the pen name of Stanley Martin Lieber — he later said that he was saving his real name for the serious writing he planned to do one day, but it’s as Stan Lee that he’ll be remembered.
Along with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee was one of the primary creative forces at Marvel Comics during an extraordinary run in the 1960s, which saw the launch of a mind-boggling list of popular characters, including Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor (granted, he had some mythological inspiration for that one), the X-Men and Black Panther.
At first glance, those classic storylines may seem primitive when compared to modern superhero comics, to say nothing of the cinematic blockbusters that they inspired. But with their flawed heroes and real-world themes, not to mention their emphasis on a shared universe (specifically a New York City teeming with superheroes), they represented a major breakthrough. And they still be read with tremendous pleasure today, thanks to both the bold, energetic art and the knowing, bombastic charm of Lee’s writing: Face forward, true believers!
It was also during these years that Lee became the face of Marvel Comics. Through his editorials, his interviews and his tongue-in-cheek appearances in the comics themselves, he created the legend of the Marvel Bullpen, and of Stan Lee, the team’s friendly, alliteration-loving leader.
There’s been some reassessment of Lee’s legacy, as his subsequent ventures struggled with legal and financial issues, and as fans and critics have argued that Lee’s talent for self-promotion obscured the contributions of his collaborators, particularly Ditko and Kirby.
Nonetheless, Stan Lee and Marvel Comics remain synonymous to most fans, an association cemented even further by his recent cameos in Marvel films. Even when those cameos failed to make me laugh, I enjoyed them as a reminder that these billion-dollar franchises began with fertile imaginations of just a few individual creators.
Plus, the fact that Lee remained charming and good-humored well into his 90s made me hope that he would live for as long as his greatest characters. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.